Design Challenge now in session

As the new physical reality of the post-pandemic era descends upon us – our cities, buildings, transit systems, and the entire built environment must be reimagined within a new spatial and functional context.

Transit systems that bring us to work and home, the parks and fields where we play, and office buildings, restaurants, sports facilities, and places of entertainment around the globe were all designed for a pre-2020 world. Today, those places and cities as a whole need to experience significant design change – and reimagination – in order to adapt to the health, social, and economic demands now required of them.

To accomplish this, architects, designers and planners need to come forth with fundamental ideas for new technology, policy, and design to get us through this major transformation, and into the post-pandemic era.

We’ve decided that the urgency demanded of our professions requires an immediate call to action from the students at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning.

We are opening a new design challenge and calling on applicants to propose ideas that can be built, tested and implemented in our cities, buildings and infrastructure.

Participants who are accepted to the Design Innovation for a Post Pandemic World Challenge will receive:

  • funding over the summer (up to $3,000) *see restrictions below
  • pilot opportunities
  • mentorship
  • venture building instruction and guidance through MITdesignX

Accepted participants will join a series of workshops in July and August and work together (virtually) as a cohort in pursuit of design solutions. The workshops will include a series of modules that provide problem-solving techniques, and business and venture skills that will lead participants to effective implementation of their plans and, in some cases, their own ventures.  They will also work with industry, community groups and government to implement pilot projects.

With this challenge, we are essentially soliciting a process of experimentation.  We are looking for ideas that can be tested in real world situations, with data collection and analysis that result in design iterations.

What are we looking for…

Seeking transformational design for the interim and the long-term stages of post-pandemic recovery

The Design Innovation for a Post Pandemic World Challenge is looking for solutions that address urgent problems in the age of COVID-19, but that also look at the greater opportunity presented by the longer lasting effects of the pandemic on design and planning.

One should look at two stages of post pandemic recovery:

(1) An interim period where no vaccine is yet available and changes to the uses and activities in buildings and cities is required for health and economic security,


(2) The future of design and planning based on fundamental changes to our industries, communities, and institutions that are either created by the lasting pandemic or accelerated by it.

Proposals that engage both these stages should prove to be most effective in leading innovative change and harnessing this opportunity to improve our cities and buildings, not just save them.

We encourage solutions that are responsive, and also scientific and/or artistic in order to enhance our relationship with others in society and with the built environment we inhabit.


For example, some specific design challenges that need to be addressed are:


1   How can we enable hands-on collaboration so critical to research and invention while maintaining social distance?

Essentially, how do we reconfigure the university, the laboratory, design studios and public forums to ensure the continued enhancement of knowledge and progress.


2   How do we maintain vibrant, successful downtowns – that mix people, ideas and transactions – if fewer people come to work, visit, shop, or attend sports games or large entertainment venues?  

The glory of the city is in its mixed-uses, its experiences, its density of activity and life.  How can we maintain the excitement and productivity of a city when we need to control and suspend activity rather than expand it?


3   What happens to the “office” and “office buildings” – to date our dominant and most productive workplace?  Does it change into something else or move elsewhere?


4   Can we reduce the health risk of using airports and public transit while maintaining or growing ridership to sustain this crucial mode of transportation?  Or will there be a change to modeshare?


5  How can design tools and software adapt to more urgent and rapidly changing requirements.  

Can design become more 4D and learn to react or predict outcomes?


These are just some ideas. You are encouraged to draw on the above or make your own proposals.  Ideas will be judged on feasibility, market or public need, and predicted impact on society,  the environment and the economy.


Designing to Survive

Washington Post Magazine, July 13, 2020


Public Spaces Weren’t Designed for Pandemics. N.Y.C. Is Trying to Adapt

New York Times, June 29, 2020


How the Coronavirus Recovery is Changing Cities

Bloomberg City Lab, June 22, 2020


How the Coronavirus Will Reshape Architecture

The New Yorker, June 17, 2020


Tactical Urbanism: Reimagining Our Cities Post-Covid-19

Foster+Partners, May 14, 2020


The Pandemic Does Not Spell the End for Cities

Jennifer Keesmaat, Foreign Affairs Magazine, May 28, 2020


The Pandemic Has Taken Cars Off Streets. Will it Last?

Cheryl Katz, Yale Environment 360, June 1, 2020


How does a Virus Spread in Cities? It’s a Problem of Scale

Wired, May 20, 2020